Some tips for tech leads conducting behavioral interviews

 In Management

I’ve interviewed and hired a bunch of people for our tech organisation but I still struggle with the non-technical behavioral interview. I’d be lost without help from my boss and other team members who always manage to ask great questions to get a candidate talking.

These are some of the things I try to do in every interview to get the candidate at ease and set up the interview for success.

Start with proper introductions

Describe your role, what that means in your company. Describe the role they’re applying for. Describe the company, the organisation and the team they will work for. Describe the style of work you do. It can be a nice ice-breaker for a nervous candidate to sell the job to them at the start of the interview.

Also don’t forget to describe the interview process. Every company has a different interview process so they might not know what to expect from this interview and subsequent stages!

Cover the key behavioral areas

There are some things I absolutely need to come away with a good answer to.

  • Teamwork – can the candidate work with our style of teamwork
  • Resilience – can they see things through, can they handle change and pressure
  • Ethics – Are they decent, how do they speak about colleagues and assign blame

Go beyond a list of canned questions

Unless you run out of time and absolutely need to. We don’t have a script for our interviews and they’re usually conducted like normal conversations. This is the way I was interviewed and it put me really at ease. Don’t make it feel like an interview.

I try to stay away from starting a conversation with generic “Describe a situation when…”or “”How have you used blah blah blah in the past…” type questions. It’s much better to ask about how a person feels about some latest technology themselves and go from there. Ask how they would change a thing. How the thing compares to their current thing. What they contribute to their current thing. See what they get passionate about and follow that to the end.

There are some great standard questions like “Why our company?”, “Why are you leaving your old job?” that I would ask at the end if it wasn’t clear by the end but usually the candidate has already answered.

Ask open ended questions

I’m not great at framing my questions in an open ended way. This is something I constantly work on. Like any tech person I have opinions on all kinds of things and I love to hear what the candidate thinks about topics, however it’s extremely important not to lead them in answering so you don’t just get a biased answer.

Don’t rely on gut-feeling too much

My instinct is to rely too heavily on gut-feeling. I think gut feeling is important but I know what it’s like to be a nervous candidate at a job interview so it’s really important to give the person time to relax and settle in to the interview before making a judgement of any kind. Fight that urge to instantly judge the candidate!

It’s not a tech interview

Don’t ask specific tech questions. I absolutely don’t ask questions about C# generics for example. But I would try to get a feeling for the candidates love of technology in general. Things like “Why are you working as a developer?” often give a great incite in to the candidate’s motivations and their ability to learn.

“What is your favorite app?” often gives you some insight in to how much technology the person uses day-to-day.

See if they use or tried to use your software. This is great if you have some popular  consumer software. We always ask “What’s your favorite app out of all our apps? (we have three)”, “Do you use our website/apps?”.

Identify if a mechanism is used for answering

If the candidate is using S-T-A-R (Situation/Task, Action, and Result) to answer then they have probably prepared beforehand which is awesome. If they don’t use star but are giving lots of answers based on past experience then they’re probably great communicators anyway.

Just try to identify if they’re bullshitting. Look for lots of “We did…” rather than “I did…”. Don’t let them use generic answers. Don’t let them hypothesize too much. It should be very specific and based on past experience.

Look for enthusiasm (and burnout)

I’ve had candidates that were unable to look me in the eye for an entire interview. This is a bad sign but I understand that there can be nerves and cultural differences that cause it. What I immediately notice however is candidates that come across as burned-out when asked about their favorite project. Without enthusiasm for development you probably won’t enjoy working anywhere and you should take a holiday before looking for work. Seriously!

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